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THE QUICK by Lauren Owen – Review

April 24, 2014

ArtsLiterature | by Francesco Cerniglia


Readers in the UK can sigh with relief, after reading Lauren Owen’s debut novel The Quick. Owen (pictured below) completed a Bachelor’s degree at St. Hilda’s College, Oxford, before recently completing a Master’s in Creative Writing. She began her writing career, however, by crafting Harry Potter fan fiction (and as we know, terrible things can happen with novels that follow fantasy fan fiction – see 50 Shades of Grey for more details.) The Quick, however, has taken a different path. Owen has composed a dark and beautifully haunting novel. It avoids reliance on sadomasochism, and instead tackles much deeper issues while still remaining realistic. What’s even more impressive is that this particular beautiful, realistic novel is about the undead.

It is the late 1800s, and James Norbury (a reserved aspiring writer from the North) moves to London to pursue his career. James happens to find true love with his new flatmate – a young man called Christopher. After being threatened by Christopher’s brother, the pair decide to elope to avoid the severe chastisement not often documented in Gothic fiction. Mysteries begin to ensue when the pair are attacked. This would be a run-of-the-mill plot points, but this attack has a difference – they are attacked by vampires. After James loses the love of his life and is forced into the realm of the undead, his sister Charlotte travels from Yorkshire to unravel the mystery. She meets the terrifying ‘Doctor Knife’, James’s fellow victim Howard, and an entire range of fearsome characters. As one secret is revealed, more are posed, and even more questions begin to arise. In the presence of the mysterious Aegolius Club, and as the vampires reveal themselves, we are left wondering – will James be rescued, can he ever return to humanity, and can they ever discover the secrets of The Quick?

The Quick offers the reader a plethora of themes, varying from the more realistic oppression of homosexuality in the 19th century to the fantastical idea of vampires. Owen deals with the vampires, however, realistically. Everything is documented. Everything is decided. The novel is interspersed with the notebook of Augustus Mould, a researcher who studies ‘The Quick’, which is the specific group of vampires dealt with. All the myths are ousted or proven. Do they turn into bats? No. Do they have reflections? Yes. Every clichéd idea about vampires is researched and this is where Owen prevails – this dark world becomes real with detail. As the viewpoints differ, and as the reader acquires different perspectives from the different characters, every mystery is revealed.

Where Owen succeeds most is in the grasp of the Gothic novel genre. While adopting her firm hold on fantasy from her love of Harry Potter, there are moments in The Quick which exude traces of Austen’s Northanger Abbey and Lewis’s The Monk. The novel is full of suspense. On every page, a glint of something more to come. Owen has crafted a novel which fills you with terror as soon as you begin to relax – and it’s convincing. The descriptions are elegant and the fantasy world complex, yet carefully crafted. It blows Twilight out of the water. These vampires don’t sparkle, or look like supermodels. These are the draculaic, blood-and-gore vampires one expects and deserves from a Gothic novel.

Lauren Owen

In the midst of current Gothic-fantasy novels that surround the reader today, The Quick is a fine offering. Owen’s world is intricate and at times, astoundingly convincing. She turns a 19th century world into one which can be accessed by the modern reader. We are not isolated – we are drawn in by the realistic dialogue, the original, interesting descriptions, the curious plot and all its themes and devices. As the reader continues through, they are transported back to this hazy-grey London scene; surrounded by smog and shadowy figures. Every moment has a feel of possibility, which is not confusing, but rather tempts the reader to carry on. Every delicate curtain could be hiding a figure, and every door could lead down a secret pathway. It is up to the reader to dare to carry on; to follow their curiosity, to feast on the moreish subtleties, and most importantly, to brave the terrors of The Quick.

THE QUICK is out in bookstores now.

Tim Doble